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Popular former headteacher died from 80 per cent burns in Islington flat fire

Poplar Coroners Court Pic: Google Poplar Coroners Court Pic: Google

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
2:23 PM

A much-loved former headteacher died from burns covering 80 per cent of her body after her flat was ravaged by fire, an inquest heard today.

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Mrs Wiseman's daughter Martha at her mother's funeral last yearMrs Wiseman's daughter Martha at her mother's funeral last year

Elizabeth Wiseman, 77, was found collapsed by her bed with a scorched head, chest and limbs following the blaze at her home in Liverpool Road, Islington, in June last year – but may not have suffered much pain due to nerve damage, her family were told.

Mrs Wiseman, who taught at Islington Green, Highbury Hill and William Tyndale schools, was a “inveterate” smoker who enjoyed more than 20 a day and it is thought likely the blaze was caused by a dropped cigarette.

Mrs Wiseman’s daughter Martha, who attended Poplar Coroners Court, said: “We saw my mother in the mortuary and she looked at peace. How many of the burns would she have suffered before [she died]? Would she have felt much pain?”

The coroner, Dr William Dolman, said: “Even a pathologist would struggle to answer that.”

He added: “With severe and deep burns, they burn through the nerves of the skin, so they are often numb.

“She would have lost a lot of fluid and would have lost consciousness very quickly.

“She wouldn’t have suffered.”

Martha Wiseman described how her mother had been become virtually housebound after a mugging in 2009 knocked her confidence.

The fire brigade had been called to her home eight or nine times before – on one occasion finding her with cigarette burns on her chest – and firemen found similar marks on the floor boards and cushions in her home.

Andrew King, investigating, said they found nothing left of the bed, mattress or duvet and stains on the walls, suggesting a cloud of acrid, superheated smoke and gas had filled the room down to half a metre from the floor.

He said: “It’s difficult to say how long the fire had been going, somewhere between 10 minutes and half an hour – not much longer than that.

“The cigarette would have burnt through bedding and once it burned a hole through the mattress it would start generate more heat, creating a burning channel.

“When it came into contact with oxygen it would have combusted into a flaming fire.”

Dr Dolman, who described Mrs Wiseman as a “committed, inveterate smoker,” urged the family to remember the good times.

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